Skeleton Tracking with Kinect and Processing

Ever since PrimeSense open sourced the Kinect middleware, it’s been clear that body tracking interfaces were going to rapidly come within reach of hobbyists and artists.

PrimeSense demo video of skeleton tracking with the Kinect and their OpenNI middleware

The PrimeSense middleware takes the depth data coming from the Kinect camera and performs a process called “skeletonization”. It detects individual users who are within view of the camera and then tracks the positions of their bodies. All of a sudden, as a programmer, rather than having access to the pixels of a flat image, or even the depth information from the raw Kinect data, you now have a description of your users as a series of joints in space. For many applications, especially gesture-based interfaces and motion capture, this is exactly the data you need to get started.

Unfortunately, when the PrimeSense middleware was released the software reference implementation that went along with it was Windows only. Slowly but surely since then, this situation has improved. PrimeSense has released packages for Linux and OSX and the open source community has started to work towards integrating them into more accessible environments like Processing and Open Frameworks. This process is not yet complete, but it has gotten to the point where and adventurous person can get started. This post documents my first successes doing just that.

The first step is getting all of the dependencies installed. A bit of a challenge at this point, but possible. (Note: this post is based on my experiences of doing this on OS X and will be specific to that.) Tohm Judson’s OpenNI to Max/MSP via OSC tutorial is the best place to start. If you have never installed MacPorts before his directions will go rather smoothly (though there are a lot of steps). If you are unfortunate enough to have installed MacPorts before upgrading to Snow Leopard, you’re in for a bit of a struggle as the MacPorts automatic upgrade path seems to have gotten badly broken with that change. After much frustration I managed to uninstall all the ports that were affected by the upgrade problem (the MacPorts migration page is a good place to start if you’re in a similar situation) and then proceeded through the rest of the steps outlined in Judson’s tutorial.

Judson’s tutorial is based around OSCeleton, a proxy that broadcasts the skeleton data from the Kinect middleware as OSC messages. OSC is a standard format for real time messaging similar to midi and is supported in many languages and platforms, including Processing and Open Frameworks. Once you’ve successfully gotten to the end of Judson’s tutorial, you’ll have OSC messages representing the skeleton data being transmitted and then you can start writing your own code that receives those messages and does whatever you want with the information.

Once I’d gotten everything successfully installed, I ran the OSCeleton Stickmanetic example just to make sure things were working:

This sketch simply uses the skeleton position information in 2D as an obstacle to some particles falling out of the sky with Box 2D for physics. It’s relatively silly, especially the choice of connecting the shoulder joints directly to the head rather than to the neck as seems a lot more intuitive, but it did prove to me that everything was installed and working successfully.

Then, as a basis for my own code I started with the OSCeleton Processing MotionCapture3D example. This is a Processing sketch that reads the incoming OSC messages from OSCeleton, converts them into points in 3D space representing each of the joints of the body and draws a series of spheres at those points.

I wanted to also add lines between each of the joints so, after some experimentation, I used Processing’s beginShape() function and treated each adjacent pair of joints as vertices for lines. In working through this exercise I constructed the following map of how OSCeleton names each joint:

Obviously, I’m only going into detail on the right side of the body, but equivalent nodes are available for the left arm and leg as well. In addition, it’s worth noting that for whatever reason I wasn’t actually seeing any collar, finger, or ankle joints. I don’t know what causes these to not come across, but in my setup they were not appearing in the OSC messages sent by OSCeleton.

Once I’d successfully finished drawing the vertices, I tried my sketch out with my roommate. Lo and behold, you can track two completely separate users no problem.

A couple of notes about this video. Its sluggishness was caused by the screen capture software I used to record it, not the code itself. When not recording, it ran smoothly at a much higher frame rate on my machine. Also, many of the glitches here are caused by the constrained space of my room. The Kinect can obviously only process the parts of your body that it can see. My room is cramped enough that the two of us could barely fit within the Kinect’s field of view simultaneously. Some of the weird glitches you’re seeing here are when individual joints disappear from view and my code draws them as if they were at the top left corner of the screen.

But now that I’ve gotten the skeleton data into a form that I can use, what to do with it? The first thing I thought of was to use it to change the view of this skeleton itself. After all, even though I’m gathering this data in 3D, you’d barely know it from the display you’re seeing here. And most 3D browsing interfaces are incredibly unintuitive and hard to learn, maybe that’s an area of design where full-body gestures could actually be useful.

I added the Obsessive Camera Direction library to my Processing sketch. OCD is the best Processing camera library I know for intuitive control of the viewport. It has slightly more controls than the commonly used PeasyCam, but is less surprising in my experience.

After I had OCD installed, I configured it to always aim at the joint representing the right hand of the detected figure. Then I calculated the distance between the right and left hand and made it so that controlled the zoom. Moving your hands closer together would cause the camera to zoom in, moving them further apart would zoom out. Finally I made it so that raising both hands above your head would rotate the camera around the figure and moving both hands below the hips would rotate the camera around the opposite way.

Here’s what it looked like when I started playing with it:

The code for this is available here: controlling a 3d camera via gestures with kinect in Processing. This video is dramatically improved from the one above because, in the interim, I discovered MovieMaker, a built-in class that makes it incredibly easy to record movie files of a sketch from directly within Processing.

A next obvious experiment to conduct along this path would be to use this interface to navigate around more interesting 3D data, like a pre-existing 3D model. It would be especially cool to use your head to determine the location and angle of a camera within a 3D space to provide navigation and recording of a virtual environment. And then to use the position of your hands to fast forward or rewind various 3D motions being played back within the virtuality.

Another interesting area that I plan to explore soon is creating 3D “hot spots” for interfaces. In other words, mapping particular parts of 3D space to various application controls that can then be triggered by moving different parts of your body into them. Matching these hot spots to actual physical objects or locations within a real room is particularly interesting. Imagine: bringing your left hand near the top of your bookcase turns on a light, putting your right hand there turns it back off, etc. The possibilities are endless.

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18 Responses to Skeleton Tracking with Kinect and Processing

  1. Mort says:


  2. Ray says:

    Hey… I also tried OSCeleton in processing but had some problems with multiple users. Following errors showed up in the loop: ConcurrentModificationException

    May I ask if you had any luck solving this?

    With regards,

  3. greg says:

    Ray —

    I never saw that error. Are you running the MotionCapture3D example that ships with OSCeleton? It correctly parses the user id out of the OSC messages and creates a different skeleton object for each user so it handles multiple users correctly no problem.

    • Ray says:

      Yes, I am using MotionCapture3D example . I tried it both on Windows and Mac but had the same problem that crashed Processing.

      Which version are you using? Also 1.2.1?

      • Andres García says:

        Hi Ray, I got the same problem I can’t track two users at the same time, my experiments are for comparing movements between two different users at the same time in a learning process. Did you solve that issue?.

  4. greg says:

    I’m using Processing version 1.2.1. Wait, it crashed the Processing IDE itself or just your app? If it’s Processing itself, it sounds like a problem with your install of Processing or even Java. I might try reinstalling.

    • Ray says:

      it crashed processing itself.
      Here is the weird thing: it crashed both mac and pc. I doubt that I can install both of them wrong…

      but thanks for answering anyway… It’s good to know that I seem to be the only one having this problem

  5. Gustavo Nascente says:

    Hello greg,

    I really liked your job!! I would like to know more about your thesis. I am from Brazil. I appreciated if you could send me you thesis to read e know more about kinect.

    thanks a lot!

  6. Andres García says:

    Thanks a lot for the information, thanks to that I can track joints angles!!

  7. Art says:

    Hello Greg, everyone,
    Amazing project!
    I was trying to get the sets of lengths of all joint-to-joint of the skeleton, and also the approximate measurements of the actual body-mass around key sections of such skeleton. If a BMI body-mass-index could be calculated from this, it would be fantastic. What do you think it is the best way to approach this?
    Are there any libraries/classes/functions that could help me get this kind of data?
    Thanks in advance for your help,

  8. korkut says:

    Hi I am having this weird problem when I try to run MotionCapture3D through processing. The program execution loop gets stuck at line ;

    “Hashtable skels = new Hashtable();”

    and it throws out “semi colon missing” exception ..

    I wonder if you might have any ideas ?

    Thanx in advance

  9. Josiah Stapleton says:

    I would like some help with this please. Does anyone have any source or information on the accuracy of the joint coordinates obtained by the Kinect Sensor? For example, whether the x and y coordinates have an error of +/- 0.05m and the z coordinate an error of +/- 0.07m (Just random values I put to help explain what I am looking for). Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!


  10. sanka says:

    When I try to run stickmanetic.pde on processing I get this error
    “Vec2 pos = box2d.getScreenPos(body);” Can some one please explain me what I m doing wrong. Thanks in advance.


  11. standard says:

    Anyone using NI Mate? Is the syntax for the joint data the same as OSCeleton?

  12. I packaged up all of the OpenNI/Primesense and libfreenect stuff for Fink. I’ve got the Fink packages to the point where they work for me by just installing them, so I’m looking for testers. This is all that should be needed to install everything to run NiViewer:

    fink configure (then turn on the 'unstable' branch)
    fink install openni-sensor-avin2-sensorkinect primesense-nite

    libfreenect also works this way:

    fink install libfreenect

    Fink/unstable includes libusb 1.0.9-rc3. Fink/stable has 1.0.8 without patches, so won’t work. Once we have tested libusb 1.0.9-rc3, we’ll move it to stable.

  13. ruzhin says:

    i have just started using proccesing and kinect, i can run most of the examples with kinect and OSCeleton, but i cant compile Stickmanetic , first it said cant find ‘edgechaindef’ i downloaded different versions and jbox2d and placed them in the libraries, now i get “the function createshape(edgechaindef) does not exist ”
    i think im not placing the jbox2d in the right place! or maybe im nit using the right version!!
    can you please tell me what am i doing wrong?!!! i dont seem to find any help online either!!!

  14. Pingback: Kinect Portraits — Aaron Uhrmacher

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